Emerging evidence suggests that the intestinal microbiota is a source of sleep-promoting signals. Bacterial metabolites and components of the bacterial cell wall are likely to provide important links between the intestinal commensal flora and sleep-generating mechanisms in the brain. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced by the intestinal bacteria by the fermentation of nondigestible polysaccharides. We tested the hypothesis that butyrate may serve as a bacterial-derived sleep-promoting signal. Oral gavage administration of tributyrin, a butyrate pro-drug, elicited an almost 50% increase in non-rapid-eye movement sleep (NREMS) in mice for 4 hours after the treatment. Similarly, intraportal injection of butyrate led to prompt and robust increases in NREMS in rats. In the first 6 hours after the butyrate injection, NREMS increased by 70%. Both the oral and intraportal administration of butyrate led to a significant drop in body temperature. Systemic subcutaneous or intraperitoneal injection of butyrate did not have any significant effect on sleep or body temperature. The results suggest that the sleep-inducing effects of butyrate are mediated by a sensory mechanism located in the liver and/or in the portal vein wall. Hepatoportal butyrate-sensitive mechanisms may play a role in sleep modulation by the intestinal microbiota.